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Mar 08

Netizens today rejoiced as India’s finance minister, Mr. Arun Jaitley announced the rolling back of the regressive tax on EPF withdrawals. However silently EPF has been made a more useless instrument without people even realising that something has changed. Most people are still unaware of the new withdrawal restrictions on EPF, earlier one could withdraw his EPF balance if he/she was unemployed for 2 months.

This has now been retrospectively changed, in what would qualify as bait and switch in any investment scheme and be grossly illegal, the current Modi Govt. has disallowed withdrawals of the EPF balance before the age of 58. So while investing the money if you thought you could have thought that you would use it later to start a business. Guess what ? You cannot now and all this has been done silently outside the budget. Also the decision was announced retrospectively not even giving people a chance to withdraw their savings before the decision came into affect. How’s that for progressive ?

In light of the above there is a conspiracy theory floating around that removing the EPF tax was the plan all along, they announced it since they knew it would act as a smokescreen for the other regressive steps on the EPF. And while we are at theories, here is some practical advice from our very own MoS (Jayant Sinha who is the son of Yashwanth Sinha (nepotism much ?))

“Okay, let’s get the PF issue out of the way. We have received a lot of complaints [about the proposal to tax PF]. Honestly, we were doing them a favour by keeping PF tax-free. If you had taken the same money and put it in a bank fixed deposit, you would first have to pay tax on it, and then pay tax on the interest. We want to keep provident fund and pension fund on the same page.”

Some people say you could have made the National Pension Scheme tax-free.

People in India don’t want to pay taxes.

Easy to say when you dont have to live hand to mouth and pay a gazillion indirect taxes. Instead of widening the tax net on business owners, the current Government again decides to make the life of salaried and service individuals difficult. So much for the promised ‘ache din’.

Mar 02

It hits you, it hits you hard. While growing up we all had laggards in our classes, while the toppers went on to become doctors and engineers, the laggards went onto become IAS/IPS (through reservations) or become lawyers or become journalists. The fact that usually the worst of the lot become junior journalists can help explain how stupid news stories are published without any corroboration. In some cases publications have been known to copy faking new or the onion verbatim and post it as news.

A couple of days ago, I came across an article on the Times of India (affectionately known as the TOIlet of newspapers in India) around an Indian Bengali village teenager Satparna Mukherjee who claimed to have won a NASA fellowship. I was intrigued, why would NASA be sponsoring a random kid from a non-descript part of India, Don’t get me wrong, Indians are smart, however the kind of shit science we are taught under the aegis of CBSE with very little emphasis on practical aspects leaves little to the imagination of the kid. Serious pure sciences research is non-existent even in Indian colleges. So for a school kid to impress scientists across the world would be a very special feat. And while we are at it, why just shame the kid, lets shame the journalist Saubal Gupta who wrote the piece with no fact checking. Journalism is about fact checking, fact checking and fact checking. Even without contacting NASA, the article reeks of fakeness and smells of deceit, lets go through the article.

The article starts by making an outrageous yet plausible ? claim :

Eighteen-year-old Sataparna Mukherjee, a Class 12 student from a village around 30km from Kolkata, has been selected by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (Nasa) for its prestigious Goddard Internship Programme under the Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS). She is among five scholars chosen from across the world for this programme.
Nasa’s GIP selects five exceptional individuals from across the world every year and funds their entire education after school.

However as someone random on the Internet pointed out, these are only meant for US Citizens. Ms. Mukherjee cannot be by any stretch of imagination a United States Citizen. Also look at the fine editorial work by TOI, NASA is spelled in title case and programme (sic) is misspelled. Here are the requirements directly from the NASA  website.

Eligibility Requirements

  • U.S. citizenship
  • GPA: 3.0 on a 4.0 scale
  • High School students
    • At least 16 years of age and a current sophomore, junior or senior
  • Undergraduate or graduate students
    • At the time the opportunity begins, must be accepted/enrolled full-time in an accredited U.S. college or university

The article goes on becoming funnier as you read through it  :

Oxford University, where she she will pursue graduation, post-graduation and PhD (as Nasa faculty) in aerospace engineering at its London Astrobiology Centre.

Umm, why would NASA send her to a UK university and then sponsor her bachelors, masters and PhD in aerospace engineering at Astrobiology center. So many things wrong with that sentence. Aerospace engineering at a Astrobiology center in UK ?

The article then quotes the wonder kid herself :

“It all started in May last year when I was a member of a group on a social networking site where there were many members, including some scientists. One day I shared some of my thoughts on ‘Black Hole Theory’, and one of the members of this group gave me Nasa’s official website and told me to post my findings, which I did.” Sataparna’s paper on Black Hole Theory, and how this could be used to create a ‘Time Machine’, was hugely appreciated. “I am very happy to get this opportunity where I will also work as a researcher at the Nasa centre in London,”

A little jargon here and a little jargon there and our journalist is thoroughly impressed, black hole theory, time machines, loch ness monster and Godzilla. Ofcourse this time she is going to be a researcher at a NASA center in London. Wait, wasn’t she going to study at Oxford ? When did NASA open a center in London ? Even at this point our journalist didnt think something was wrong.

Sataparna will work as an “employee and researcher”, where she will be part of its earth science and technology development programme.

As any class 10 student will tell you aerospace engineering, astro biology, black holes, time machines, earth science are all very different things. How many PhDs is this wonder kid getting ?

“She is a very good student and her ability should not be judged through her marks alone. She is original, and that has made her attain so much.”

This is the quote from her referee at Oxford, a professor in English (yeah right) at some random Bengal college. Physical sciences is one of the few places where marks do have a strong correlation with talent.

Anyway, I do hope she has gotten some kind of admission and this is all a big misunderstanding and this doesnt impact the kid’s career. However one has to wonder about the mental capacity of this journalist and his peers who have not fact checked the story with NASA, or Oxford and have published the news articles with such glaring discrepancies.

What’s funnier are the comments on this article praising the daughter of Bengal and talking about Bengal producing thinkers.

Mar 02

As digital payments grow in the US and India, it becomes important to protect your credit card from fraud. While many banks will take care of charges after you report your card lost or stolen, you may be taken for a ride if someone uses your card and the bank deems it to be your responsibility. There are some common sense tips you can use to ensure the security of your credit card. Some of these tips are common to the US and India, however most cards in US are much better protected against fraud even though they have much less security features.

1.  Get a CHIP and PIN card. This is easier said than done in the US. Most banks in US are sending these out in batches but give your bank a call and ask them to send over a chip card. CHIP cards are harder to skim. In India, do the same. Many banks will want to charge you extra for a replacement. Tell them to go and pound sand. I had an encounter with Kotak Mahindra bank who wanted to charge me Rs.100 to get a Chip card. After I invoked their social media team at Twitter, I was able to get the chip cards sent to me for free.


2.   Scratch that CVV out. Another way to do fraud is to memorize your card number and write down the expiry and the CVV. An easy way to prevent this fraud is to scratch out the CVV from behind your card (after memorizing it ofcourse Smile ).


3.   Swipe it in front of your eyes. Never let the waiter or the barista disappear with your card. Don’t get conscious or be embarrassed to ask the waiter to swipe the card in front of your eyes. A moment of inconvenience can prevent a large future loss. A lot of waiters would make a copy of your card using a skimmer while they take it to swipe it.

4.  Turn on mobile alerts. Most banks and credit card companies allow mobile alerts. These mobile alerts serve as an early warning system to you incase your card ever gets compromised and banks can immediately shut down fraudulent use of your card.

5. Never share your OTP. This is mostly with the Indian context. OTPs or one time passwords are issued by banks in India to authenticate card not present transactions. Never share those passwords with anyone including someone claiming to be from your bank. Also never share your card number, expiry or any other sensitive information with your bank either. They will never call asking for such information.